Friday, October 10, 2014

Nobel Wrap-Up

Luckily the U.S. got 2/3 of the Chemistry award this year. It was getting close there - I though we weren't going to get any prize at all.

Which got me thinking. Which years had the U.S. not won any award from the Nobel committee? I decided to investigate:

Early Woes

1901 02 03 04 05 

For the first five years of the Prizes no Americans won. It was essentially an exclusively European prize. Indeed it's not surprising the first American to win, Theodore Roosevelt, got it for dealing with a European issue - winning the Peace prize for negotiating the end of the Russo-Japanese War.

Still Losing (Mostly)

08 09 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 

With one exception, the next ten years weren't very kind, either. The long-over-looked Elihu Root got the Peace prize in 1912, but except for that we had no winners approaching World War I. The streak was broken by a different Progressive US President, Woodrow Wilson, for his League of Nations idea.

Terrible Twenties

20 21 22 24 26 28 

Things picked up in the Twenties, but for the most part Americans did not fare well. In 1921 Albert Einstein won the Physics prize (not for relativity, but for the photoelectric effect), but he was yet to be an American citizen. The notable exceptions include in 1923 when Millikan got the Physics prize; 1925 when the Dawes Plan was recognized awarding Charles Dawes; and 1927 when Arthur Compton got the Physics prize for the Compton effect. in 1929 the award went to Frank Kellogg for the Kellogg-Briand Pact, and we entered the thirties consistently winning. 

Indeed, years when the U.S. did not win were henceforth isolated incidents.

1935, 1948, and 1957

In 1935 fewer than average prizes were awarded, (there was no Literature or Physiology prize that year.) In 1948 TS Eliot won for Literature, who if you want to count American expats, would count. However since he consciously left the United States to become a British subject, I don't really think it should count. In 1957 two Chinese-born  fellows won the Physics prize while working in the US. However, neither Tsung-Dao Lee nor Chen-Ning Yang was an American citizen - both becoming Americans later in the 1960s.

1963 and 1973 

In 1963 Maria Goeppert-Mayer was awarded the Physics prize, having been born in Poland, and marrying an American in 1930. She shared it with Hungarian-born American citizen Eugene Wigner. In 1973 Henry Kissinger won for the end of the Vietnam War having become a naturalized American citizen in 1943. Another naturalized US citizen won that year, the Norwegian Ivar Giaever for Physics, having become an American in 1964. That year's Economics prize also went to Wassily Leontief, who emigrated to the US in the 30s.

1991 and 1999

In 1991 no Americans got the award. Ronald Coase, an influential economist, won - but he retained British citizenship throughout his life and did not become an American, despite living and working in America from the 1950s. In 1999, the most recent year no Americans won, Ahmed Zewail won in Chemistry for basically inventing the field of femtochemistry. Born in Egypt he became an American citizen in 1982, and so was a citizen at the time of his award.

So by generous estimates, if you count naturalized citizens, expats, or future Americans, there have only been 21 years out of 111 years (the award was not given in any category between 1940-42) without American winners. In other words, 18% of the time we've not gotten it. By a stingy count, as I provided above, there are 27 years, or 24% of the years awarded when we've been snubbed.

That said, the US has more Nobel laureates than any other country (over 350), so there.

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